Paul Villinski (b.1960, Maine) is an American sculptor widely known for transforming littered cans from the city streets into large-scale, abstract installations of life-like butterflies. Over three decades, his wide-ranging work has engaged themes as diverse as memory, childhood, addiction and recovery, flight, nature, sustainability, and transformation. With a lifelong concern for environmental issues, his work frequently re-purposes and "recycles" discarded materials -- the detritus of contemporary life -- exploring the possibilities and narratives embedded in the "worthless," to surprising and poetic ends.
Paul Villinski (2021): "I am drawn to humble, yet evocative materials; in this case, crushed beer cans from the streets of New York - every one of them once raised to someone’s lips. My process of “recycling” them into images of butterflies is a quiet physical meditation. As the butterflies alight on the walls of my studio, they lead into an exploration of formal, painterly issues. Often, they want to gather into a certain shape, or fly off on a particular tangent, and I let them. They function both as marks in these abstract, three-dimensional “paintings,” and as actors in curious narratives. Some pieces develop a quirky, magic-realist quality, as if a strange child has trained the insects to perform some ritual dance we are not usually privy to. Finally, the butterflies operate symbolically, and I try to develop a conceptual unity between materials, process, and imagery: metamorphosing littered beer cans into flocks of butterflies mirrors the act of transformation and rebirth that butterflies symbolize across all cultures.
Butterflies seem impossible. How can these ridiculously delicate creatures, apparently blown about by the merest breath of wind, actually fly many thousands of miles to migrate? How is it that an innate, intergenerational GPS guides them year after year to the same tree? Are we more like them than we suspect, or could we be?"
Paul Villinski has created studio and large-scale artworks for more than three decades. Villinski was born in York, Maine, USA, in 1960, son of an Air Force navigator. He has lived and worked in New York City since 1982. A scenic route through the educational system included stops at Phillips Exeter Academy and the Massachusetts College of Art, and a BFA with honors from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York, in 1984. He lives with his partner, painter Amy Park, and their son, Lark, in Queens and upstate New York.
Notable exhibitions include a mid-career survey, "Paul Villinski: Farther," at the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA; "Paris-London: Music Connections," at the Museum of Immigration, Paris, FR; a solo exhibition, "Burst," at the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; “Passage: A Special Project,” at the Blanton Museum, Austin, TX; “Material Transformations,” at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery, AL and Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville, FL; “Making Mends,” at the Bellevue Museum of Arts, Bellevue, WA; “Second Lives: Re-purposing the Ordinary,” at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY; and “Prospect.1,” an international Biennial in New Orleans, LA. Villinski's “Emergency Response Studio,” a FEMA trailer redesigned and rebuilt into a solar-and wind-powered mobile artist’s studio, was the subject of a solo exhibition at Rice University Art Gallery, Houston, TX; the exhibition also travelled to Ballroom Marfa, in Marfa, TX; Wesleyan University’s Zilkha Gallery, Middletown, CT; and was featured in the New Museum’s “Festival of Ideas for the New City”, in New York, NY.
Villinski’s work is widely collected, including major public works created by commission. In 2015,he installed “Skycycles,” three full-scale “flying bicycles” suspended overhead at “Ocean Breeze,” an NYC Parks and Recreation Track and Field facility, through the New York City Percent for Art Program. "Dream Desk" was completed in 2014 as part of the City of New Haven Percent for Art Program. Suspended over the entranceway of the East Rock Magnet School, the "flying school desk" features hand-written statements by hundreds of the school's students describing their dreams and aspirations. "Air Chair," a winged wheelchair, is part of Miami International Airport's permanent collection, and hangs in the American Airlines terminal. "Gather," an installation of hundreds of kinetic, realistically crafted, aluminum butterflies, was commissioned for the main atrium lobby of the University of Michigan Mott Children’s and Von Voitlander Women’s Hospital, Ann Arbor, MI. In 2015, a large, site-specific, butterfly installation called "Encircle" was completed for the main entrance lobby of the White Plains Hospital, in Westchester, New York.
Other public collections include the Museum of Arts and Design, NY; New Orleans Museum of Art, LA; National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, WY; National Soaring Museum, Elmira, NY; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; Louisiana Children’s Museum, New Orleans, LA; Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA; Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville, FL; Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, ME; Tulane University, New Orleans, LA; and Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, AR. Corporate collections include Fidelity Investments; Microsoft; Progressive Insurance; ADP; McCann Erickson International; New York Life; Ritz-Carlton; Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines; Holland America Line; 21C Museum Hotel, Louisville, KY; The Alexander Hotel, Indianapolis, IN; Hotel Van Zandt, Austin, TX; Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH; and many others.
His work has frequently been reviewed in periodicals including ARTnews; Artforum; Art in America; Sculpture; Interior Design; Design Bureau; New York Magazine; ID; The New York Times; Wall Street Journal; Los Angeles Times; Washington Post; Houston Chronicle; International Herald Tribune; Village Voice; Seattle Times; New Haven Register; Toronto Star; Times-Picayune and many others.
Villinski’s work is featured on a 2020 United Nations Postal Service stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. He has been a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Serenbe Institute, GA; Socrates Sculpture Park, NY; the Millay Colony, NY; the Ucross Foundation, WY; the Djerassi Foundation, CA; and the Villa Montalvo Arts Center, CA. He has lectured frequently in university and museum settings. He is represented in New York by Morgan Lehman Gallery; in New Orleans by Jonathan Ferrara Gallery; in Jackson Hole, Wyoming by Tayloe Piggot Gallery; and in Palm Desert, California, by Austin Art Projects. In 2019, Vivant Books published and extensive monograph documenting three decades of the artist’s work.
An avid pilot of gliders and single-engine airplanes, metaphors of flight and soaring often appear in his work. With a lifelong concern for environmental issues, his work frequently re-purposes discarded materials, effecting surprising and poetic transformations.